Date posted: 18/06/2021 8 min read

Jobs outlook improves

The employment outlook for chartered accountants is improving for those looking to move.

In Brief

  • The outlook for jobs in Australia and New Zealand is positive
  • Strong demand and candidate shortages are expected right through to the end of 2021
  • There are opportunities across the board

By Abigail Murison

The border closures in Australia and New Zealand has had a significant effect on the jobs market for many disciplines in accounting.

Many people considered themselves lucky to have a job in 2020 thanks to border closures, extended lockdowns and economic uncertainty. Now, because Australia and New Zealand have weathered the pandemic so well, some great opportunities for any finance professionals considering a career move are appearing.

Jobseekers’ market

“The outlook in Australia is really positive,” says Richard Holmes, Co-founder and Director of HPR Consulting, a specialist finance and accounting recruitment firm in Sydney. “In fact, we had our biggest January ever. 

“With COVID, many people delayed moving jobs and now they are really keen to explore new opportunities. We have seen this at all levels. 

“Because many Australians were working from home in mid-2020, we have never had so many career conversations. It gave people time to talk. It doesn’t take many people to make a move to create a musical-chairs effect in the Sydney and Melbourne markets.”

David Cawley, Regional Director of recruiter Hays, says his firm has witnessed a change from a cost-conservative, headcount-controlled environment to one focused on finding and investing in talent.

The picture is similarly rosy in New Zealand.

“The New Zealand jobs market finished 2020 incredibly strongly, with demand for accounting and finance roles all the way from clerical to senior roles,” says Megan Alexander, Managing Director of Robert Half New Zealand. “With the borders still closed, we expect to see strong demand and candidate shortages right through to the end of 2021.”

In demand

Alexander, Cawley and Holmes all agree: people with better-than-average communications skills and the ability to communicate financial insights to non-finance stakeholders are in high demand.

Commercial analysts and management accountants are also sought-after as companies look for finance-based insights to help them improve and refine their operations and maximise their efficiency.

However, there are opportunities across the board. 

“People with payroll experience are in very high demand for obvious reasons,” says Cawley. “With government support packages, organisations need to know they are on top of changes and paying salaries correctly. If you have Big Four or top mid-tier experience, that’s even better.

“The mid-level market is the most active sector. These are post-qualified candidates who have two to five years’ experience and can step into a new role quickly.” 

Holmes identifies a shortage of senior financial accountant candidates, especially in the big-city markets. “Clients want someone who will stay in the role for two or three years,” he says. 

“However, people with these financial accounting skills are often interested in moving into analytics roles. If you are a senior financial accountant and are happy to stay in that type of role, there are many good opportunities.”

In New Zealand, Alexander says jobseekers can take their pick of roles, from contract to permanent and entry level to senior positions. 

“We have seen an increase in both permanent positions and contract work, where a company may bring in someone to complete a specific project, be it Power BI, analytics or systems related,” she says. 

“However, there’s demand right down to accounts payable roles: especially if candidates understand clearly how their work relates and contributes to the overall business.”

Recruitment for CFOs remains a longer process, and there are generally fewer opportunities at the top end of the market.

“Typically, active candidates can spend up to at least six months searching for a new CFO opportunity and that’s still the case,” Holmes says. 

Adds Alexander: “My advice to people looking to move into a CFO position is to always be open to opportunities because candidates usually get tapped on the shoulder for these types of roles.”

Flexible work

The pandemic forced companies in both countries to adopt remote working and develop relevant systems and tools. “Many corporates found that productivity went through the roof when staff were working remotely and not having to commute, and many finance people loved it,” Holmes says.

“However, video meetings are never the same, and it can be challenging from a cultural and business partnering point of view. Also, some companies can’t have half the team in the office and half working remotely. If an employer can offer flexibility and remote working, that’s a plus.”

New Zealand is seeing a push from clients to have the finance function back in the office. 

“Both clients and candidates were feeling disconnected, and less able to support the business,” Alexander says. “The feedback from both sides is that you can’t build relationships if you’re always working remotely.”

That said, many jobseekers would like to retain some level of flexibility and lifestyle balance. 

“No one is requesting to work five days from home,” Alexander says. “However, candidates are more likely to want two or three days from home, while clients would prefer one or no days working from home. There’s more work to do on that.”

The art of the interview

If you want to make a move, Cawley suggests your next step should be to plan your career progression. Chartered Accountants ANZ has a Career Transition toolkit to help.

In particular, candidates should brush up on their video interview skills. 

“The interview process went virtual owing to COVID-19,” Cawley says. “As the restrictions ease there is more appetite for face-to-face interviews, but whereas previously a candidate who said they would rather do a video interview might have been taken off the list, companies are now more open to it.

“If there’s a snap lockdown, an in-person interview may be changed to a Teams or Zoom interview and you should be ready for that.”

Update your resume

If you are open to making a job move, “back yourself, do the preparation, and know what you’re worth,” advises Holmes. “If you have been invited for an interview, the company already likes what they see on paper, so be yourself.

“In addition, if a recruiter calls you, be open to the conversation. Give them five minutes to hear what they have to say. Even if you don’t think you want to move, it will give you more knowledge about what’s going on in the market.”

Alexander agrees. “Don’t just put your head down and wait for COVID to be over,” she says. “Make no mistake: there’s a lot of hiring happening and if you’re a jobseeker, the chartered accountant designation continues to prove its value.” 

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